Kovacevic: Sochi stumbling? Don't buy it
SOCHI, Russia — The room is just fine, thanks.
Funny, but it's seemed that the loudest roar leading into these Olympics, which formally begin Friday with the Opening Ceremony, has been about, of all things, accommodations. Specifically those of journalists.
Here's guessing your chain-emailing uncle has spammed you with that viral pic of the two-toilet stall all week. Or the glass of yellow water. Or the linen-free bed. Or you've independently read the firsthand account of an inconvenienced journalist or two or three. Some were scary, some hilarious.
No doubt every last tale was true, too. I've heard a few myself since arriving Wednesday.
But I'm going to type this, and I couldn't care less who it ticks off: The Sochi Games have been, out of my four Olympics covered, by far the best organized to this point. Comparing to my only other Winter Games, they're putting Vancouver to shame.
The facilities are new, clean and typically spectacular in design and functionality. Sure, a ton of that is the result of the outrageous $51 billion budget, but the complaints haven't been about cost efficiency. They've been about organization. And from the tight ring of venues in Olympic Park to a logical flow to all movement, it's eminently evident that real thought has been applied.
The transport is so much better than any recent Olympics that it's no contest. There are dedicated bus lines for the first time since Beijing, modern and timely trains, and, of course, the $9 billion of new roads, bridges and tunnels. Speaking only for myself, the commute in Vancouver from hotel to media center averaged an hour and a half, mostly on sardine-packed public rail. Here, it's 12 minutes by bus.
The security, which obviously weighs above all else, has shown to be the right blend of expansive — upwards of 40,000 uniformed officers — and non-intrusive at the street and event levels. The uniformed officers aren't brandishing machine guns or being overbearing. It's hard to find long lines anywhere. The screening technology now includes identifying chips in our credentials and state-of-the-art body/equipment sensors. (The reported hacking of laptops and phones is reprehensibly intrusive, but I'll repeat this is about organization.)
Apparently, I'm not alone in this broader sentiment.
The U.S. Olympic brass opened its pre-Games press conference Thursday with this from CEO Scott Blackmun: “We've been very happy. People will always focus on details early. Once the action begins, I'm sure the story will change.”
Other nations and athletes echoed that en masse.
Understand, please, this is neither political nor social commentary on the Russian government, Vladimir Putin or any of their principles or practices, from human rights to anti-gay laws to the Sochi government's mass killing of stray dogs.
Nor, for crying out loud, is all this to suggest nothing will go wrong. All it will take is one terrible act to call everything into question.
All I'm saying is that this image of Sochi of being this bumbling overall operation looks to be ridiculously overblown. And in all candor, some of it's come across as if people are looking to bury these Games before the torch is even lit. As if they'd be delighted to see it all fail.
Maybe it's the history.
Russia remains something of a frenemy to America, but we're only a couple of generations removed from schoolchildren being taught where to take shelter when the Soviet Army starts dropping bombs. I'm a born-and-bred Pittsburgher, but I'm of Serbian heritage. Trust me, that stuff takes centuries, not decades, to heal. If it ever does.
Maybe it's the Russian way or attitude.
I'm not just referring to Putin and all his biceps-baring bravado. I'm talking about Anatoly Pakhomov, mayor of Sochi, declaring that there will be no issue with homosexuals because “we do not have them in our city.” The man had a billion ways to address that topic, and he still found the most inflammatory. I'm talking about Alexei Sorokin, director of Sochi's top pest control firm, referring to the stray dogs as “biological waste.”
The Russian bear doesn't like to be poked. It bites back first, thinks later. Or never.
Anyway, so yeah, the room's fine. It's small, but it's got a clean bed, a desk big enough for a laptop and fresh latte from downstairs, a little flat-screen, even a cute balcony.
All told, I'm anticipating the smoothest logistics I've known at any Olympics.
Don't mean to interrupt the narrative and run, but I've got a bus to catch.